Japan Day 11

Typhoon day!

Typhoon 17, or as they say outside of Japan, Typhoon Jelawat, arrives today. I’ve dealt with typhoons in the past and they’re a mess. The one today is expected to bring several inches of rain per hour with 80mph winds with a foot of rain expected in Tokyo. I usually just do what most Japanese people do, which is hole up and watch the TV coverage of the approach and arrival. It’s not that you can’t go out, but the stores close, the trains (and planes) stop, and 80mph winds aren’t anything to sneeze at. So far, I’ve heard reports of a guy drowning while fishing, a tree falling on an Australian tourist in Osaka and hitting her in the head, and elderly people falling and breaking major bones. For some reason, the male weather reporters are in the city hiding from the wind amongst the buildings while the female reporters are sent out into the seaside where the wind is pulling their helmets and they’re not looking happy at all. I’m a big jerk for watching the female reporters and thinking it’s so funny.

A typhoon isn’t something that moves at a completely unpredictable rate so you can see it coming. The big rains were supposed to arrive here around 6PM, so I figured I could stay out until about 3PM. The first thing was to try to find my mom’s friend’s apartment. My mom would get several letters a week from her friend who she used to work with and lately we haven’t been seeing any correspondence at all. The addresses in Japan are hard to decipher and I went by where google maps told me to go. Her address was in the middle of a busy area but down a narrow path.

According to Google Maps, it was in this older apartment building.

I couldn’t just knock on the door in Japan, so I took a picture of the names on the mailboxes and emailed them to my mom.  I saw a lot of weird signs that I didn’t really figure out until I got home. They just say, “no salesmen.”

I did meet someone who lived there, but she looked Thai to me and didn’t speak much Japanese. Since I never saw an address placard on the building, I went a police box and asked to see their map to make sure I was at the right building. Looks like she’s moved on.

My mom told me about the park that her friend would walk in. It also has a hill listed on one of my tourist maps, but I only saw this path leading down from where I was standing which didn’t look higher than anything other than this valley.

I continued walking around that part of Shinjuku looking for some of the last places that Lafcadio Hearn lived.

Before I arrived, around 11AM, it was getting dark. By 11:15, I started feeling raindrops. And by 11:30, it was pouring down rain. I headed for the closest ¥100 store to buy another umbrella. By the time I got out, the rain was letting up. I headed back to the hotel for a rest. My sister suggested a nap, and I fell asleep sitting in front of my computer.

It was getting nicer and nicer, though it was still really humid out. I figured I’d better find somewhere to go and I decided I’d walk to Mister Donut which only turned out to be about a mile away.

I’m not a big fan of lines, so I just headed back. I’m not sure what the line was about, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with guys wanting one doughnut like me.

I got back to the hotel and bought some food at the Tesco, including some rice balls. I think they’ve figured out how to keep the seaweed nice and dry for days. This is a tunafish and mayonnaise rice ball.

First you open the plastic.


Then you pull the plastic to the side. It’s hard to see, but there are two pieces of plastic here. An outer wrapper, then the seaweed, an inner wrapper for the rice to keep the seaweed dry. After pulling both sides, it’s ready to eat.


I also bought dinner. ¥297 is a lot less than what I’ve been spending.

I got back around 2PM and spent the rest of the afternoon watching it get dark and watching the approaching typhoon on TV. Looks like it’s going to be cooler this week and I’m probably not bright enough to stop my weird walking tours. I still haven’t really seen Ueno or the area near Tokyo station or Shinagawa. There’s plenty more to see.

Japan Day 10

The wind died down today but the air was still fairly clear. In the morning I was able to see something that isn’t that obvious in the picture but really stuck out in real life. On the right side of the buildings in the middle of the picture is Mount Fuji! I even started up a video chat with my sister to show her the view.

Today I decided to go on a walk though the park close to Shinjuku: Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu. Instead I found some of the closest things to hell I could think of. I started out the walk in Harajuku. I remember listening to Aisha Tyler complaining on her podcast about how much she hated all the Harajuku style and I now know what she means. Takeshita Dori is a street lined with that cutesy Harajuku crap where girls had so much crap going on that I wasn’t sure if they were trannies (though I did see an old queen walking through with her hair in curlers). You can google “Harajuku style” to see it, but they look like dolls. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I’m not sure what all was going on there.

No idea at all.

But oddly enough that whole area is filled with rich people. I’ve seen two Maseratis driven around as family cars with baby seats in the past two days.

So at the end of the Harajuku weirdness is the rich part of Harajuku. I’m not sure what all the store names mean since I’m sure I can’t afford anything in any of them, but in the panorama are Beluga, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Chanel, Bulgari.

But at the very end, next to the Bulgari store, is a Shakey’s pizza!

There’s more of a hipster feel down “Cat Street”. In fact, there’s more of a Portland feel with the galleries and sportswear stores including Columbia on the left and (if you can see it) Keen on the right. Adidas is right around the corner.

I followed the street down to Shibuya, where I found the sign of the day.

Back north towards Yoyogi park was the NHK Broadcasting Center. One thing I didn’t take pictures of were the huge lines forming in front of stores that were just opening or were having sales. I didn’t recognize any of them but I guess they were popular with the yoots.

The weather was “hot as balls” today. The thermometer said it was only 80°F or so but with the humidity and the direct sunlight it felt a lot hotter. I didn’t even make it into Yoyogi park and headed straight to Meiji Jingu, a huge shrine sacred to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. 100,000 trees were added at the time of Emperor Meiji’s enshrinement so that should tell you how large the grounds are.

The Japanese people aren’t that tiny; these gates are huge.

Here’s the entrance to the actual shrine.

And the final gate before the shrine. A cpu;le getting married are coming through the opening to the right of the gate.

And the actual shrine.

A view from the back of the last gate that shows some of the eaves.

I took the side exit to get out to Yoyogi station.

Even the short walk to the side exit was long.

My sister just sent me an email about a coffee shop and it was only around noon by this time, so I went back to find it. I could have sworn it was near Yoyogi station, but it was actually near Yoyogi-Hachiman which is all the way around the park close to NHK. So off I went, back around this huge-ass park and shrine.

It was way further than I thought it would be, and the roads don’t make that much sense. And I’m not sure I should have been wandering around where there were so many rich people. Hell, there was even a dressage facility with horses!

Anyway, I finally made it to the coffee shop and it was run by someone who had lived in Vancouver, B.C. I guess it’s been on a bunch of hipster blogs and that’s how my sister found out about it. It’s tiny and only seats about half-a-dozen at the most.

The coffee was what I expected from a Canadian (though she’s really Japanese). It was good but kind of bland.

I walked back to Shinjuku past the tonkatsu place that’s near the Nishi-Shinjuku Hotel. This picture is for my sister, mainly, because the picture on google maps is so different.

And here’s what’s in Google maps.

I took a couple of detours along the way to try to find some air conditioning and some more tourist maps, and finally got back to the hotel around 5:30PM, covered in sweat. You can see some of the salt rings on my shirt.

I wanted to know what the guys were eating a the Indian/Nepalese restaurant last week so I went back. It wasn’t as good as the first time and I don’t think I need to go back. What I thought were shumai with spicy sauce was shumai with spicy sauce. And the samosas came with ketchup. Ah well, at least I found the answer to the mystery.

The typhoon is coming tomorrow so I may not get out at all. It’ll start raining in the middle of the day and they’re saying when it really hits (expected around 6PM) the rain will exceed 80mm/hour. That’s more than 3″ every hour!

Japan Day 9

I am feeling better but did not get to sleep very well last night. My cough went away until I tried to go to sleep and my cough came back so I tried to sleep sitting up on the couch for a while. Fortunately the cough went away soon enough.

And the wind didn’t help much. Just before my alarm went off, I had a dream that I locked the door on my mom as a joke and I could hear her outside. It was actually the sound of the wind whistling in the vents.

The wind didn’t let up all day and I figured I might as well through caution to the wind and go to the harbor district. In fact, I went to Odaiba where I’ve heard all Japanese people visiting Tokyo go because it’s where Fuji TV has relocated.

I found Odaiba to be a depressing place it had faceless malls with stores I didn’t want to see.

Instead of being part of the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, there were expressways separating the faceless malls from a bleak looking amusement park.

There were a couple of fancy hotels (probably for the actors working at Fuji TV) but they were bleak and concrete with very little signs of life outside.

But there was Fuji TV. I went to see the stores and the floor where you could see into some of the studios but for the most part it was a kind of a disappointment all around.

I decided to walk back towards Tokyo across the Rainbow bridge. Back when I lived in Japan it was a romantic date destination for the youth of Tokyo to park somewhere and look at the rainbow bridge. That was twenty years ago and I think the bridge is just a bridge now though it is a big-ass bridge that spans the harbor.

I wasn’t sure if there was a way to walk across the bridge so plan B was to take the boat back across. There are several train lines and monorail lines as well, but I wanted to do something different.

I walked along the beach, which wasn’t all that populated and saw some people passing the time fishing. I finally came across a beach volleyball tournament.

As I went past, I realized that the main event was hidden behind curtains and the public didn’t appear to be invited. There wasn’t even an obvious way to buy tickets.

Looking back at Fuji TV, you can see several of the faceless malls in front, and the secret beach volleyball tournament as well.

Turns out the bridge walkway is a couple thousand meters long and you’re not allowed to ride a bike across. You can walk your bike and they had a strange contraption they bolted to your tire to keep you from riding. I only saw two bicyclists as I got onto the bridge and one other person walking across.

Here’s another view of Odiaba from the bridge.

And a view of Minato-ku from the bridge. If you look hard enough you can see the Tokyo tower and the Sky Tree.

While the bridge on the Odaiba end has a normal ramp access, it just abruptly ends at an elevator on the Minato-ku end and dumps you into the harbor district. I was kind of lost for a bit until I realized there’s always people and crowds in Tokyo.

So I headed towards a JR train station and lunch. I have this weird aversion to buying food where I have to buy a ticket from a vending machine before I eat, and that means that I’m excluded from most of the cheap food in Tokyo. I was even willing to just eat at McDonalds if it looked properly air conditioned, but I just started heading further and further in towards area that looked like I could find a restaurant. But I never did. I did see the Tokyo Tower getting closer and closer.

I randomly ran into Keio University (where all the “playboys” go).

Close by I found the sign of the day describing a well for a samurai worrier.

I finally made it to the Tokyo Tower and I think the trip was about 7 miles on the map (probably further because I made a bunch of side excursions).

Of course I didn’t go up, but I knew there would be ice cream at a tourist attraction. Even better, there were crêpes!

After that I had the energy to make it back to my hotel.

Finally, for dinner, I went to the expensive-looking tonkatsu place across the street. I’m not sure how they got the pork so tender, but it was tasty.

Japan Day 8

I got up fairly early today, still with the cough but feeling much, much better. I went downstairs to do my laundry and what I found out was that after THREE-AND-A-HALF FRIGGING HOURS the magic washer/dryer still hadn’t finished. I started at 7:30 and at 11AM my shirts were still damp. Now I know better than to wait for it to finish.

I still figured I’m on the mend and it was windy as so I thought I’d go to see the Sky Tree, or, at the very least, Solamachi (sky city).

Solamachi is a giant mall at the base of the Sky Tree and it’s popular as hell. It’s just Thursday, not a holiday, and there were long lines in front of the popular restaurants which were most of the restaurants. I could have gotten into some of the chains, like Mickey D’s, KFC, or Starbucks but where would the fun be there?

The only longer line was to go up the Sky Tree itself. The sign said it was about a half-hour wait, but I didn’t wait.

I remembered that one of the few things someone wanted was a postcard from Japan. I found out last year that post cards pre pretty hard to find in Japan unless you hit a tourist spot. Since I was close to Asakusa, I headed back to find a postcard. I went through a lot of tourist shops before I found any. The picture is pretty funny and has cars that are older than the person who is getting the card.

I think this is the same view from a few days ago, but I didn’t realize how close the Sky Tree really was. No more pictures of the gate today. Instead of stopping at a restaurant, I ended up buying rice balls at the Lawson convenience store and ate them by the river. I took a random walk back through Asakusa to get to the train I’d rode in a few days back. On the way I think I saw a celebrity (but I’m not sure).

These two next guys are definitely celebrities and are located just outside the Bandai headquarters.

I also saw some firemen practicing outside of their firehouse.

When I got to the subway I found the sign of the day:

I’ve been eating kind of cheaply because I seem to spend money on weird things. Lunch yesterday was half a box of Calorie Mate (the driest biscuits on the planet) and a bottle of tea from a vending machine plus an afternoon scone at Dream Pocket. Dinner was a cheap pre-made bento from the supermarket downstairs. Today lunch was the other half of the box of Calorie Mate and the rice balls from Lawson. I figured I should go out to dinner and not just to one of the same two places downstairs. There’s an expensive looking tonkatsu place across the street, and lots of Italian-ish food, but I found a place with an inviting-looking sign that had a couple of people inside. I’m not sure if it was the best soba I’ve had, but it was definitely worth the ¥800 and better than what I can get in the US.

Now I’m back in my room listening to the wind rattle the vents and wondering why my cough is back. If the wind is this bad today, the typhoons are probably getting fairly close. I may be stuck in the hotel again!

Japan Day 7

I’m still not the picture of health and woke up coughing a lot. I knew I shouldn’t overdo things like I did earlier this week at least until I feel better. But it was my weekly cleaning day in my hotel room so I knew I had to be out from 10 to 2 at a minimum. I puttered around my room until it was close to 10, calling home and basically trying to figure out where to go today without coughing up a lung. I decided go somewhere odd, Kokubunji.

Kokubunji is listed in my my guide book as “A Journey to History and Nature,” but surprisingly is also where my mom worked in an orphanage and where my old co-worker Suzuki-san lives. My mom also said my Aunt Yoshiko’s brother has a house in Kokubunji. But, as my mom says, there’s a surprising amount of greenery in Tokyo and it would be a nice quiet place to spend a restful day. That, and the cough drops I finally bought (rather than the throat candy I had) were pretty much what I needed.

I got to Kokubunji without much problem but there wasn’t any sign of a “phone” or a “house right next to the phone” on the south side of the station, where my Aunt Yoshiko’s brother’s house was supposed to be.

I did see a sign right near the station that made me think this would be a good day.

The Tonogayato Gardens, a Metropolitan Garden, was right near the station and a nice pleasant place that made me do something I said I’d never do: take pictures of a bunch of trees like my dad always did.

The gardens had a nice green lawn that they were trimming with Weed Eaters which seemed like a lot of trouble, but I realized I’ve never seen a lawn mower in Japan. The Weed Eaters were incredibly quiet as well.

I’m going to post some more embarrassing pictures of nature, just because. There were bamboo gardens and streams and lots of trees.

 There were supposed to be historic sights to see so I started looking for Otaka’s Path and Masugata Pond Springs and also the ruins of the old Kokubunji temple. I didn’t find a map until a long ways into the trip so I had to follow all the neighborhood maps and I even stumbled upon some markers for the path that would have been nice to find earlier on.

I did find a bunch of signs that took a bit to read that didn’t make the trip any easier. I was getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes at the gardens and even saw a giant wood spider so the signs warning me about nature didn’t make me feel any better. Like this first one that says there are big snakes and to leave them alone.

Or the one warning me about suzumebachi, or “sparrow bee” which is the Japanese name for the Asian Giant Hornet which may or may not cause a lot of deaths per year in Japan (the intarwebs aren’t quite clear on this).

Or the one about the regular honey bees you shouldn’t annoy. You can’t see them flying around in this picture, but they were there.

In any case, I wandered around Kokubunji finding a nature preserve (with more nature), the ruins of the old temple (which often was just open fields with old faded signs) but also some old gates.

It would have been nice to find the map for all of this before this point, but this is the part of the story where I actually found a tourist map of the town.

Then, after this gate, I found the ruins or empty fields or whatever you want to call them. I wandered back and forth around the same area and must have passed the Masugata springs at least four times.

The water comes out of the rock wall at the bottom of a hill.

With the map in hand I wanted to see the final rock bridge but it was a disappointment.  

It wasn’t a complete loss because I stopped into the coffee shop next to the bridge and had an ice coffee and scones which were tiny but tasty. If you can’t tell, the red thing in the middle is a mini Hershey’s krackel and that should tell you how tiny the things on the table are.

I’d say Dream Pocket is worth the stop if you’re by that silly bridge.

I had a confusing trip back home that took some backtracking because there are a bunch of different express lines which include the “Rapid”, “Chūō Special Rapid”, “Ōme Special Rapid”, “Commuter Rapid”, and “Commuter Special Rapid” which are all written in Japanese of some sort on the outside of the train. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to be here long enough to figure it out.

The rest of the day I spent in the room taking it easy. I was watching Anthony Bordain on Discovery last night and I realized one of the things I wanted to do was sit around watching Japanese TV. I finally figure out how to get some local channels and that’s what I did this evening. I even got a ¥300 bento from the Tesco Express so I could spend more time watching the weird mysteries that were on. Yet another weird success.

Japan Day 6

I thought I was getting better and I slept pretty darn well last night, but I knew something just felt off. It was the first time this trip that I slept in until my alarm. I got up and sent some messages to my sister and I just went back to sleep. When I finally made it down for the “continental breakfast”, I tried to talk to one of the other guests and found out that I didn’t have a voice. That came back pretty quickly, but I knew I should take it easy, again, and I was coughing up lots of phlegm for the fun of it as well.

Unfortunately I found a stream of the Monday Night football game and had something to do all morning. I say UNfortunately because every game I watch this season I think, now THAT was the WORST officiating I’ve seen so far. They’re getting worse and worse.

When I finally left around 12:30-ish, I took part of the “promenading course” on the tourist map. It took me to various neighborhoods as well as the trash collection area for the special ward of Shinjuku. Basically, it was a weird walk around parts of the city.

About the time I popped back out into “city” and not “community” there was another Shinto ceremony about to begin that I’m guessing is asking for auspicious tidings for the new building. I remember this happening in the past, but I’m guessing.

There were ceremonial heads of some sort as well.

And portalbe shrines.

But I just kept pushing on. I just barely made it to a Hawaiian restaurant before they shut down between lunch and dinner, and had some taco rice. They also had loco moco on the menu and it looked like the portions were as large as I expect to see in a Hawaiian restaurant.

I finally ended up in Shinjuku where I did some shopping for things that may or may not work for me: a small battery-powered toothbrush that doesn’t seem to have much oomph and a battery that you charge so you can charge your iPhone when the battery dies. Sounds convoluted to me. In any case, that was my day. I came back to the hotel, passed out again for a bit, and then went downstairs for yet more udon. It’s not exciting, but it’s fun and different for me.

Japan Day 5

I’m not sure if I’m overdoing it, but I still don’t feel 100% and I stayed out over 8 hours wandering around Tokyo. It was a great day when I left but the air here is probably not as good as it is in Oregon. On top of all the industrial effluent in the air, Oregon has a nice ocean to clean the air before we get it. Japan has the deserts of China. I’m not quite sure of the weather here either. Portland takes a while to heat up or cool down and there’s none of that here.

The weather meant it sounded like a good day to head to Asakusa and the first picture, at least the dark part underneath the gate, probably is a familiar view to anyone who has seen pictures of Japan. It’s the Grand Kaminarimon Gate with the huge lantern that’s in all the guide books.

Monday was the day to go, too. Lots of tourists and lots of them from the US and Europe from their accents but it looked like some where using the area for more traditional purposes as well.

The streets to Sensoji Temple and Akasaka Jinja are lined by traditional festival shops but I passed by all the sweets and trinkets that they offered. I saw a lot of the sorts of things I took to Goodwill the past two weeks.

There’s another gate and then the approach to the temple.

 I got the temple confused with the shrine which was smaller and next to it.

I wandered around the neighborhood for a while before I went to for a river boat ride. I thought I might be on one of the traditional boats.

But the one for the river boat rides are a bit nicer.

Lots more views of the Sky Tree, the tallest tower something-something-Japanese-I-couldn’t-understand.

Several times they repeated that the Sky Tree was the tallest something-something-something-in-Japanese.

We went under several bridges and I wasn’t enough of a bridge otaku to take pictures of all of them.

It was lunchtime, so I had what they were selling: ice cream with the view of another bridge.

I guess Gozilla hasn’t been around for a while because I saw the Tokyo Tower as well.

After that I went for a disappointing visit to the Asahi Breweries headquarters. It’s in all the guidebooks as having several restaurants but there really isn’t anything interesting. I saw a lot of disappointed-looking (and thirsty-looking) foreigners, and I include myself in that group.

The building on the left is supposed to look like it has head on it (like a proper beer) and the gold thing on the right is a mystery to me. After that I walked all the way across the neighborhood to Kappabashi Dougai which is a street that sells kitchenware for restaurants as far as you can see in the panorama shot. There were plates and glassware as well and a couple of shops selling the food models you see in front of a lot of Japanese restaurants. I also saw a store with a giant dinosaur head in it but I didn’t want to stop to ask. There was a Coca-Cola memorabilia store with a working 1940’s Coke machine modernized for ¥150 Cokes.

What there wasn’t was a lot of real restaurants. Every time I saw an Italian menu sign, it was just in front of a store selling menu signs. Every time I saw plastic food it was just for a store selling plastic food. I ended up at Mos Burger because, well, I LIKE Mos Burger and sometimes I just need to be number 1.

It was only a couple of miles to Ueno, so I decided it was time to go on another cross-Tokyo trek. What I found was that the street I was on between Asakusa and Ueno sells a lot of home Buddhist shrines that people have when someone dies. I also found another shrine so of course I visited it. I wasn’t the only one though it was pretty deserted.

I finally made it to Ueno Station but I didn’t feel like visiting the park or the zoo quite so late in the day.

I guess I wasn’t through walking because I started off towards Akihabara. There are a lot of weird jewelry shops between Ueno and Akihabara, selling necklaces, including several stores with what I would consider odd looking south Asian necklaces. But those weren’t for me.

I just kept going and kept asking deliverymen if I was still going the right way and I finally made it. I saw a lot of iffy iPhone accessories, went to my usual mecca of small parts, and generally wandered around until I got tired and got on the train for the hotel. I finally got off the train about 6:15PM and it was POURING. I went inside to get my bearings, my umbrella, and look for the key card I lost in the morning. (I wasn’t the only one who lost his key this morning. There was a “kid” in his underwear at the front desk this morning asking to be let back in his room.)

It was still POURING when I left for dinner and so I just went downstairs to the udon shop. It was raining so hard I didn’t even want to go across the street.

Of course it wasn’t raining much at all by the time I was done and I felt a little foolish for going out to dinner when I did. If I just waited I could have gone wherever I wanted. I like udon, so it wasn’t that big a deal. I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow.

Japan Day 4

The weather was miserable today and even though I spent a lot of time and money getting myself to Japan, I figured I might just hole up again and stay inside. But really, where would the fun be if I did that? I could have gone to an underground shopping arcade, but on a rainy Sunday that just means a hot, humid, packed-with-damp-people experience that I didn’t want to deal with. But I did wake up early so I puttered around on my computer, did some laundry, and tried to debug my mom’s computer remotely. None of it went very well.

After sitting in front of the only free washing machine – one that I was quite familiar with – and looking at the other three (one was running, and two were sitting with someone’s clean clothes inside) I realized that I was using the only washing machine that didn’t have a built-in dryer. My first thought was, “Holy crap! These washing machines look like they have built-in dryers!” which was quickly replaced by, “Why the hell won’t these people come get their laundry so I can use one of the cool washing machines?” My bathroom is now strewn with my damp and hopefully drying clothes and my malevolent feelings towards those who can’t be bothered to properly time their laundry.

I didn’t want to spend the whole day sitting around hoping that my grumbling would dry my clothes more quickly so I headed to one of the Japanese food places that my sister keeps emailing me about. For Tokyo she’s sent me articles on one curry place, two burger places (probably in deference to my tastes), and two coffee shops. I’ve only been to one coffee shop and found where they relocated the curry place, so a burger place was an obvious next choice.

Even better, Fatz’s Burger was in Koenji, or about a hour’s walk away. It was too nasty to walk, so I took a quick 10-minute train ride there. The Koenji neighborhood was a big surprise to me as it had a thriving shopping district unlike many spots in outlying areas. For most of Japan, shopping arcades are just a series of shuttered stores and people go to malls to do all their shopping. I guess not in Koenji.

 Not only were there outdoor stores, but also covered shopping streets as well.

I got to Fatz’s Burger an hour early and had to kill some time walking around looking at the shopping district. I was getting hungry wandering around in the rain, so I went to floresta nature doughnuts. I guess they’re a chain, but they make uniquely Japanese doughnuts.

I had a green tea doughnut at a table outside. You can’t see it, but the seat was wet as is the street outside.

I finally made it to Fatz’s Burger and I was the first customer of the day. They told me that it wouldn’t be very busy. They even had a supply of Leinenkugel’s and I guess I know enough Wisconsonites to have heard of it. The beer was pretty good.

Now onto the burger. I had their monthly special, the “ABQ” with Tillamook pepperjack cheese (from home!) and fresh mango salsa. I can honestly say that it was one of the best hamburgers I’ve had. And I ate the burger before I even ordered the beer so that wasn’t coloring my judgement.

I sat and talked with another customer for a couple of hours, Andy from Wisconsin, a translator who has lived in Japan for seven years. After I finally left, I wandered around in the rain looking for the Koenji Temple that the neighborhood is named after. I found it but it looked pretty closed up and the weather still wasn’t any better, so I just headed back to the train and my hotel.

The tall building in the picture is the Hundred Stay Shinjuku where I’m staying. I took it from the closest train station.

I mostly sat around the rest of the afternoon and had dinner at Saizeria again. It’s convenient and easy and is unique being Japanesey Italian food. I was pretty tired and according to Andy there’s a cold going around. Hopefully I’ll be rested up for the good weather they’re predicting for tomorrow.

Japan Day 3

After my 20 hours of sleep, I felt a lot better. I wasn’t sure I was up to heading out but I felt OK after breakfast so I went outside. I was surprised at how cold it was and had to come back and put on long pants.

My first stop today was a controversial one, but not too far from where I’m staying. I went to Yasukuni Shrine, which “was established to commemorate and honor the achievement of those who dedicated their precious lives for their country,” which can be seen as a commemoration of Japan’s participation in World War II, or warfare in general. The nearer portions of Asia that were annexed during WWII aren’t very fond of it in general. Nevertheless, I wanted to see it and today I did.

There was a large police presence in the neighborhood around the shrine, but that made sense since it was controversial and also near the Imperial Residence. There are also several embassies nearby and I did see quite a few policemen around the “Korea Center”. They weren’t there to keep people away, necessarily, since the path around the Imperial residence is a popular running route and was so busy that it looked like a race was going on.

I decided to walk back from the shrine because it would be more interesting than just sitting around for another day. By google maps it’s about 9 miles of walking, but I had all afternoon. Everyone was a bit surprised when I’d ask which direction Shinjuku was, but that was only about 3 miles of the total from when I started asking. On the trip back I stopped at the Tokyo Fire Department Museum and Mos Burger. I only have a picture from Mos Burger. The tempura pork burger was tiny and I could have eaten another, but I didn’t.

I made it back to Shinjuku and looked for the restaurant that my sister wanted me to find which got me sidetracked into a dangerous neighborhood before. I was much more careful this time and had my iPhone and maps running and figured out that the planned renovation was still taking place. And by planned renovation, they tore the building down.

All that’s left is that wall. The restaurant has relocated “around the block” which was a bit trickier than I expected. I found the entrance between a couple of electric stores.

I left to find another spot my sister suggested, the Paul Bassett coffee shop, which is somewhere I wanted to go and have a cup of coffee. It was more popular than I expected and crowded even on a Saturday in the middle of empty government office buildings. I had a machiatto which was tiny and tasty.

After that it was time for the final walk home with a side-trip to the ¥100 store. I also found out that the area I’m in, which I thought was the biggest part of Korea Town, was nothing compared to the area on the other side of Shin-Okubo station. It was incredibly crowded, the signs were in Korean, and merchants were yelling out Korean phrases. But I made it to the ¥100 yen store and bought an umbrella (¥100), a bar of soap (¥100), 500g of possibly-sea salt (¥100), a wash bag (¥100), and a ceramic teapot that I’m going to use as a neti pot (¥100). OK, so I’m exaggerating and there’s a 5% tax so everything was ¥525 total.

The rest of the evening was much more uneventful. I found out that the udon shop on the first floor is a chain and isn’t the best though it is better than most of the things I get in the US and only cost me ¥550. And I figured out how to use my teapot as a neti pot, so I hope I don’t have any more repetitive dreams about having to go find a neti pot in Japan. 20 hours of sleep make for enough dreams that it can feel like you’re hallucinating.

Japan Day 2

One of the reasons I wanted to stay in a furnished apartment rather than a hotel is because I figured that would let me sit on my fat ass all day if I felt like it. I like sitting around sometimes. I suppose that makes me ridiculously boring but vacation is vacation. I got to try it out today because I woke up with a head cold and decided to take it easy. Then I fell asleep. Then I decided to sleep in all day, 10AM to 6AM. I made it downstairs for breakfast but I did nothing else all day besides playing the MacHeist puzzle before passing out.

So I have nothing to report from day 2, other than that the Hundred Stay is a nice quiet place to sleep in all day (unlike most hotels) and the air conditioner appears to be sized for a much bigger room. It’s either too cold or so hot that I’m sweating through my sheets.

I’m not sure if I’m going to be 100% today, but I plan on getting outside at the very least. Maybe I’ll cough on someone on the train as payback.

Japan Day 1

I had a couple of things on my list for Day 1. I wanted to buy the things I forgot (like toothpaste), buy an electric travel toothbrush that took batteries, buy a data SIM for my iPhone that’s ¥3480/month instead of ¥1500/day, look for my mom’s stuff (a magnifying glass and a pencil sharpener), and look for a couple of locations that my sister told me to check out. I know it’s too early to hit the hay at 4PM JST (midnight at home) so I had a very expensive cup of coffee (¥510 or about $6.50 USD) so I could rally and find some dinner. For that cup of coffee I had the right to camp out for a while in the coffee shop, but I just wanted a hot cup of coffee rather than a cold one out of a vending machine. It’s still too early for most vending machines here to start selling cans of hot drinks.

I got a bit of a late start today. I got up at 6:30 but puttered around, mostly on my computer until 10AM. Heck, most stores aren’t open until 10AM anyway and I’m on vacation. During that time I had the “free” hotel continental breakfast this morning of little tiny bread and yogurt.

It wasn’t too hot when I first got going but the direct sunlight was incredibly hot. It reminded me of what my aunt told my sister, that the rain here is different than the rain in the US. She might be right as it is a lot further south than Portland. But just walking down the street was making me happy. It’s different and I’M ON VACATION!

I walked from my hotel to Shinjuku, even after being warned it was around 20 minutes away. Meh, Mos Burger was only like 12 minutes and I wasn’t in any hurry (and Mos Burger looms large in my psyche and is only a couple of minutes from Shinjuku Station). I went by our usual hotel, the Nishi Shinjuku Hotel My Stays and decided to finally visit the Buddhist temple next to it. Coincidentally, a neighbor is the daughter of one of the people at the temple and I’m guessing it’s someone important.

Walking around the neighborhood, I saw a guy who was dressed in white going into a modern-looking building and thought it was a dentist’s office, but it was a tonkatsu restaurant! I love tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), and I even order it in Korean restaurants in Portland knowing that the tonkatsu there will be thin slices of pork that aren’t what I’m used to. The special was oroshi tonkatsu, or tonkatsu with shredded daikon radish and I had to try it. It was great and just around the corner from the hotel we usually stay at. I was the only customer at 11AM which was good, since every table had an ash tray on it.

After that I wandered around geek shopping. I got my data SIM, I checked out the things my mom wanted but didn’t buy them quite yet, and wandered aimlessly looking for a curry restaurant my sister talked about. I ended up in the “scary” part of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, where the people finally stopped trying to get me to come into their restaurants and were hocking girls and illicit DVDs instead. Walking back towards the train station, I saw a bunch of huge Japanese guys in the nicest suits I’ve seen in a long time, which is weird because they weren’t lightweight summer suits. They were built like linebackers and looked exactly like what I’d cast as Japanese gangsters, two on each side of the narrow street. They were talking in a friendly manner with oddly simple language to another group of big guys who were dressed in more thuggish clothing. At that point I decided I never wanted to be on that street again. I found a police box and checked the map of where I was, and it was only halfway to the hotel my sister asked me to find. I don’t think I’ll recommend that hotel to anyone unless they can find another route there.

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon trying not to fall asleep (hence the coffee). For dinner I went to a Nepalese/Indian restaurant where I ate too much. There were other Nepalese people there and they were eating all sorts of things I didn’t see on the menu that looked like yakisoba and shumai. Who knows. All I remember is that it took forever for them to bring my check, not that I was in a hurry.

Tomorrow may be more shopping, or not. It’s supposed to be rainy so I may just hide out. But there’s so many things to see, even where you’re not expecting them.

Japan Day 0

What a long day. I got on the plane around 1:30PM PDT and got off after midnight PDT. Then I got to navigate the airport, then the train, and then make it to my hotel which is a lot nicer than I thought it would be but is in an odd part of Korea town. I did spend the afternoon and evening sitting on my ass watching movies, Battleship, The Avengers, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Tower Heist so it was more like a vacation than I’ve had lately.

Here are some pictures of my room:

With useless closets:

But a fairly nice mini-kitchen:

And a real bathroom, not one molded out of one piece of plastic!

And views from the window:

I walked around last night looking for something to eat but this is Korea Town and busy enough that there are people trying to drag you into their restaurants. And I bet all the restaurants are full of cigarette smokers. So I chickened out and went to a chain restaurant and got something I can’t get in the US anyway: a seafood doria.

I’ll try to be braver tonight.